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To Kill Ticks: Dry Clothes, Then Wash Them


Yes, you read that right: One of the best ways to make sure that Lyme disease-carrying ticks aren't clinging to your clothing after you do yard work or go for a walk in the countryside is to first tumble your clothes on high heat in the dryer and  then wash them.

And that's because the stubborn little suckers don't drown, but they do bake.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends drying your clothes for an hour as a precaution, a clever Massachusetts teenager has discovered that a much shorter amount of time will also kill ticks - a good thing to know as summer Lyme disease season approaches.

The Boston Globe reports that 16-year-old Jacqueline Flynn found that even five minutes on low heat will work. Her project has won some top science prizes and attracted the attention of the CDC.

According to the Globe: "This could have significant implications for Lyme disease prevention,'' said Christina Nelson, an epidemiologist at the CDC's office in Fort Collins, Colo., who became intrigued by the teenager's finding. "If it is true that five minutes in a dryer kills ticks versus a full hour, that is a lot easier for people, and that could also spark further investigations."


Tick expert Thomas Mather, Ph.D., of the University of Rhode Island and its TickEncounter Resource Center, told Boston radio station WBUR's CommonHealth blog  that a fairly quick spin in the dryer can kill nymphal deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. Washing, even in hot water, will not kill ticks, he emphasized - only dry heat will.

Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria transmitted by a tick bite, can cause fever, headache, aches and fatigue. If left untreated, it can spread to the joints and the heart. There were 22,000 confirmed cases in 2011, the CDC says, although the agency estimates there were probably closer to 35,000. The disease is most common among boys ages 5 to 9, and adults ages 40 to 65.

Here are some of the TickEncounter Resource Center's tips:

Dry first, then wash. After being outside, especially if you live in tick-infested areas, immediately take off clothes and throw them in the dryer. Deer ticks are most susceptible to drying, while American dog ticks, lone star ticks and other Amblyomma species are more robust. To be sure that each species achieves fatal crispiness, leave clothes in the dryer on high for 15 minutes.

Add 5 minutes for electric dryers. In the center's study, gas dryers got hotter than electric dryers, so you might want to add five minutes to the tumbling time if you own an electric dryer.

For more tips from the center, including how to detick with duct tape, click here.

Photos: dryer:  rocknroll_guitar /flickr; tick: John Tann/flickr


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